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tv   PBS News Hour  PBS  December 27, 2011 5:30pm-6:30pm PST

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captioning sponsored by macneil/lehrer productions >> woodruff: arab league peace monitors arrived in an embattled syrian city today, 9 months after the launch of a deadly crackdown against antigovernment protestors. good evening. i'm judy woodruff. >> ifill: and i'm gwen ifill. on the newshour tonight, we get the latest on the situation from alex thompson of independent television news and matt bradley of the "wall street journal." >> woodruff: then, with the iowa presidential caucuses a week away, we look at how voters are reacting to the final push by g.o.p. hopefuls with matthew strawn, the republican state chairman, and o. kay henderson of radio iowa. >> ifill: from peru, special correspondent steve sapienza reports on efforts to contain
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mercury contamination, a toxic by-product of the biggest gold rush in the world. >> if a person consumes two servings of this fish per week they're getting seven-and-a-half times the safe limit of mercury according to the world health organization. >> woodruff: margaret warner has an update on the current political turmoil in russia, 20 years after the fall of the soviet union. >> ifill: and jeffrey brown talks with author michael ondaatje on his new novel, a shipboard coming-of-age story about a boy's travels from ceylon to england. >> it was fantastic for me. >> woodruff: that's all ahead on tonight's newshour. major funding for the pbs newshour has been provided by: >> computing surrounds us. sometimes it's obvious and sometimes it's very surprising where you find it.
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>> ifill: outside observers sent in from the arab league got a firsthand look today at open rebellion in syria. the arab officials journeyed to the battered city of homs, where the military pulled back and up to 70,000 protesters turned out. we begin our coverage with this report from independent television news, narrated by alex thomson. >> reporter: the arab league delegation, possibly all that now stands between syria and civil war, hearing it straight from the people of homz. they beg the observers to come to a district that has seen heavy fighting here. they're led by this man. and the observers seem to mean business. they went. they got here, too. "we want the president executed" they chant. tens of thousands gathered to
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protest here peacefully against the regime. the regime which had already pulled heavy armor out of the ancient city very publicly before the observers arrived. and after that, volleys of tear gas from the syrian army trying but failing to stop people reaching today's mass rally in town. >> we withdrew early but the rest of the time we're hidden in government buildings in the area. we feel very optimistic about the presence of the monitors. >> reporter: another day of many unverifiable allegations from rebels and golfs alike. the government, for instance, blaming what it called terrorists for blowing up this gas pipeline today. rebels saying the syrian army used live rounds on unarmed
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protestors at three other towns across the country today. again impossible to prove. so the arab league must somehow now try and sort this out. so many of the images coming from syria are naturally somewhat one sided. after one day at work, so far so good for the arab league monitors. their team stays hear overnight. so long considerd just a talking shop, could this be the moment when the arab league comes of age? >> ifill: a white house statement condemned the syrian military for the attack. it said if the violence continues, the international community will have to consider, quote, other means to protect syrian civilians. for more on the arab league's efforts to monitor the situation in syria, we're joined by matt bradley of the "wall street journal" in cairo, where the arab league headquarters are located. i spoke to him a short time ago. matt bradley, we're hearing now that over 5,000 people have been killed in the last
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nine months of these uprisings in syria. do we have any reason to believe that the arrival of these monitors are going to change things? >> well, they're going to change things in the sense that they're going to give the arab countries the political will to move forward with international efforts to stop the bloodshed in syria. so right now really what we're seeing is an interim moment in the diplomatic effort to try to solve this problem. the observes themselves, as people on the ground in hommes noticed are not going to be able to stop any of the violence but what they will be able to do is report back to the arab league on whether or not the regime has complied with the agreement made early last week. and then after that, the arab league will be able to decide whether or not to renew the observer league mission. this could last for several months. or to proceed with further deliberative negotiations within the arab league on what to do in terms of next steps. whether or not to bring this
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issue to the security council. >> i want to talk about.... >> to talk about sanctions, to talk about possibly intervention. >> ifill: i want to talk about the security council but i'm also curious about who these mochb tores are. who are these observes? who do they represent? teachers, human rights activists, government officials? >> yes, from what i heard from people at the arab league tha they are lawyers, they're doctors, they're human rights activists. they're people who represent an activist community, military experts, people who represent sort of the upper echelon of a variety of arab states and people who would be able to have the discipline that would be able to evaluate what's going on on the ground in syria and provide some level of expertise in reporting back to the arab league. >> ifill: we're talking to you tonight from cairo because western journalists are not allowed in by damascus to see this for yourself. so just a reporting question. how do you know what's going on on the ground?
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how can you find out? >> well, i don't actually. we have some contacts with dissidents who are on the ground in syria. mainly i speak to the syrian observatory on human rights which is based in the united kingdom. they have contacts throughout the region. we can talk to the syrian national council which has representatives in france and in ankara in turkey so we can get a pretty good picture. also we have refugees who are coming into turkey and into lebanon. lebanon to a lesser extent. but we can get an accurate picture of what's going on on the ground in syria just by making a phone call to damascus or to other cities throughout the region. so they're easily reached by telephone. but it's hard to verify videos that are coming out of syria. it's very difficult to know, to sort of separate the fact from fiction that's going on without having objective observers on the ground because you're hearing from activists who are watching the violence happen. they're part of it.
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so they're not necessarily going to be getting the best, the best, most unbiased picture. >> ifill: you mentioned the potential for u.n. sanctions. the arab league itself put in place sanctions, i guess last month, in november. is there any sign that they've been working, that they have had any impact? >> yes, they've had some pretty serious economic problems for syria. syria right now has had difficulty in terms of its foreign exchange reserve which has made it difficult for them to prop up their currency. so they're definitely feeling the pressure. however, the efforts, especially by the arab league, are constrained because they don't want to hurt the syrian population whom they consider to be innocent victims of the regime. it's very difficult to choose exactly what... where to place these sanctions on what commodities to place them. of course, there are other countries such as iraq, neighboring to syria, who
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don't want to comply and will be reluctant to do so. >> ifill: you raise another interesting question. when you talk about the potential for u. intervention, the reality of the arab league intervention, the sanctions, to what extent for assad is this just buying time? it's going to take a while for any of these things to happen. >> well, this is what a lot of the dissidents, a lot of
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is buying time for everybody. the west doesn't want to have heir own end game for the regime of... espeally if that means military intervention that could potentially really unravel what is a fulcrum of middle east power, the balance between iran and other arab states in israel on the other side. >> ifill: the next shoe to drop is? >> the united nations. after the reporters from or the observers from the arab league go back to the arab league, deliver their evaluation, the league will deliberate on whether or not they feel that they should back any plans to push for the united nations to act h add international sanctions to the sanctions that the arab league has already levied on to syria. of course, this is going to be a very, very difficult effort because china and russia have already stated that they are not going to be listening to any proposals that would
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involve sanctions and would definitely not be listening to any proposals that would involve foreign military intervention. so it's a very difficult game from here on out because syria is such a crucial state to the wider middle east. so having any diplomatic intervention, even if it's just financial sanctions, is going to be very difficult to get the entire international community on board in order to do that, in order to make the sanctions effective and in a real way there needs to be a lot of players from around the region and from a lot... from around the world participating in sanctions and really truly isolating the regime. >> ifill: matt bradley of the wall street journal reporting tonight from cairo, thank you so much. >> thank you. >> woodruff: still to come on the newshour, the final push in iowa; mercury contamination and peru's gold rush; russia's political unrest; and east meets west on board a ship. but first, the other news of the day. here's hari sreenivasan. >> sreenivasan: al qaeda's affiliate in iraq claimed responsibility today for last
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week's bombings in baghdad that killed at least 69 people. the explosions tore through a dozen mainly shiite neighborhoods last thursday. they left blackened craters, blood-stained streets, and scores of wounded. the al-qaeda group, known as the islamic state of iraq, said today it carried out the bombings in support of sunni prisoners. it depicted the shiite-led government as a tool of iran. a court in egypt has ordered an end to forced virginity tests on women held in military prisons. the ruling came in a lawsuit by samira ibrahim, a woman who charged she and seven others were examined after being arrested at a cairo protest last march. egyptian officials initially denied similar claims by a number of women. now the military says soldiers who took part will be prosecuted. retiring democrats in the u.s. senate suffered a setback today in their bid to hold a majority. senator ben nelson of nebraska, who is 70, announced he will not be on the ballot in 2012.
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his statement appeared on youtube. >> it'sime for me to step away from elective office, spend more time with my family and look for new ways to serve our state and nation. therefore, i'm announcing today that i will not seek re-election. simply put, it's time to move on. >> sreenivasan: the open seat in nebraska could give republicans a boost as they seek to win back the senate in next year's elections. they need a net gain of four seats. there was new evidence today of a growing wealth gap between members of congress and their constituents. the "washington post" and the "new york times" reported the finding, based on financial disclosu data. from984 200 the media net worth of an average member of the u.s. house more than doubled, from $280,000 to $725,000. during that same period, the median worth of an average american family declined slightly, from $20,600 to $20,500. the company that owns sears and k-mart will close 100 to 120 stores.
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sears holdings corporation announced the move today, after disappointing holiday sales. it said the closings will generate much-needed cash. there was no word on how many jobs might be affected. e firm currently has more than 4,000 stores in the u.s. and canada. in other economic news, home prices in most major american cities were down again in october for the second straight month. but consumer confidence surged in december to the highest since april. on wall street, the two reports more or less canceled each other out. the dow jones industrial average lost more than two points to close at 12,291. the nasdaq rose six points to close at 2625. those are some of the day's major stories. now, back to judy. >> woodruff: most of the republican presidential candidates descended on iowa today, with just a week to go before the state's first-in-the- nation caucuses. the candidates were all smiles and hand shakes as they crisp crossed iowa trying to corrale every available vote. on a bus tour of the state, texas governor rick perry
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talked up his achievements. he tried to regain lost ground. >> we passed record tort reform. i balanced six state budgets as the governor of the state of texas. we worked to create the best job creation environment in america. i'm a social conservative who has defended traditional marriage and protected the unborn children, including signing a budget that defunded planned parenthood. >> woodruff: michele bachmann was making ten stops on her own bus tour of the state. the minnesota congresswoman was using the week in a last attempt for momentum. she's dropped from the spotlight since winning the iowa straw poll back in august. newt gingrich also had his moment as frontrunner in iowa. but has since fallen back. in dubuque today, he played up his record as speaker of the house in the 1990s, dealing with then-president clinton. >> i was effective. i actually got the deal done.
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so it wasn't 112% pure. but it worked. we had a liberal democrat decide welfare reform, we had a liberal democrat deciding tax cut. we had a liberal democrat sign four balanced budgets. i think that's pretty effective conservatism. >> woodruff: the man now sharing the lead in iowa is texas congressman ron paul. he had no campan events today. but his strong organization may give him a leg up in next week's caucuses. the other leader in iowa polls, former massachusetts governor mitt romney. he spent most of the day in new hampshire where he's well out front of his rival. before leaving for the hawk wi state and another push there. >> i don't have any expectations. i don't really jump into the expectations game. but i hope to do well in every state in the nation. >> reporter: meanwhile as the republicans traverse the iowa countryside their commercials are racing ahead of them.
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>> congressman get $174,000 a year. you get the bill. >> reporter: according to the des moines register, rick perry has spent almost $2.9 million on ads in iowa this month. >> gingrich. newt has a ton of baggage. he was fined.... >> woodruff: with a romney super pac close behind. gingrich is on the low end. his campaign has managed to put up less than $500,000 in december ads. altogether the g.o.p. field and its political action committeesave made more than $10 million in tv and radio buys this month alone. we turn now to two people on the ground in the hawkeye state, state republican party chairman matthew strawn and o.kay henderson the news director of radio iowa, a statewide news network. she's been covering iowa politics for more than 25 years. we thank you both. matt strawn, i'm going to start with you. we keep hearing about how many undecided republicans there are in the state.
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my question is, why is that? they've had a year or more to get to know these candidates. what's going on? >> i think first and foremost iowa republicans aren't making this decision in a vacuum. we understand what four more years of barack obama's policies mean to america so we understand what is at stake and we understand the decision we make on january 3 extends far beyond the borders of just our state here in the midwest. we want to make sure we get the decision right. we want to i guess really take that final measure of each of these candidates as they come to the state. there's been no question the retail aspect hasn't pen as robust. many iowa activists are just gettinthat opportunity now in the closing week to look a candidate in the eye and ask them that tough question that the iowa caucus process is known for. i'm sure at the end of the day iowa caucus goers will do what they always do. once they've made that personal connection with the candidate, they're going to probably stand up for that candidate on the night of january nuary 3. >> woodruff: kay henderson how do you explain the number of undecided at this late hour?
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>> well, there have been a multitude of candidate debates that have been well watched. it's been sort of like fruit basket upset. and that a candidate would catch fire based on a performance in a debate. people would like that candidate for a while. then as they learned more about the baggage of that candidate, the candidate fell in the polls. there's that component. the other thing i think at work here is that conservatives have a group of candidates from which to choose. there was no single conservative candidate around which they could coalesce. and at this late juncture, they still haven't made a decision about which of those candidates to support. >> woodruff: kay henderson you were telling us that you've been surpriseded at the small size of many of the crowds. what have you seen out there on the trail? >> that has been one of the interesting things about this caucus season. there were large crowds at obviously if aims straw poll
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hosted by the iowa republican party. but at a michelle baughman event this morning held in a very small venue, there were just a handful of people. the candidate who is garnering the largest crowds is ron paul. basically because he has the best ground game on iowa. he is able to get out the message that he will be in the state. that's been a little surprising because it doesn't seem to correlate with the idea that republicans are hungry to win back the white house. because they're not turning out in droves to see all of these candidates that they could see and shake hands with. >> woodruff: matt strawn, how do you explain the smaller crowds? >> you know, what's interesting, judy, as kay knows here on the ground in iowa, there's been a tremendous republican insurgence over the last two years where we've had 33 straight months of republican registration gains a-the second largest attendance his other in the aims straw poll just this past august. there's tremendous energy and enthusiasm among republicans
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statewide. part what you see on the ground is that the candidates are just now doing some of those things that traditionally were done weeks and maybe months prior, in prior caucus seasons with statewide bus tours and things of that nature. i think as iowans are getting back home following a christmas weekend, they're going to really start tuning in to who they're going to support on january 3. >> it's sort of like maybe.... >> woodruff: go ahead. it's sort of like maybe cramming for the test right before you take the final. that's a bit what these bus tours are like because as mr. strawn explained, that's the kind of campaigning that heretofore we had seen in the summer months in iowa. and now these canned candidates are doing this in the final days of the campaign rather than months ago. >> woodruff: matt strawn, i wanted to quickly ask you what you do expect in the way of turnout. in 2008, what, 118,000 republicans turned out. give or take. what are you looking at next week? >> correct.
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that 2008 number was an all-time high for republican caucus turnout. there's an incredible amount of variables that go into what turnout may be ranging from what the weather is to how many first-time caucus goers turn out. i'm loath to predict a number. i won't do that. what i can tell you is that given the republican resurgence in the state and the fact that it will any time a citizen has an opportunity to cast a vote to replace barack obama i expect there will be considerable enthusiasm and so long as we have good weather i expect it will be a robust night for republicans. >> woodruff: you won't say over or under what it was last time? >> i will not. i'll let the iowa voter decide what their turnout on january 3. >> woodruff: kay henderson, what do you think the main factors are on the minds of these republicans as they plan to go to these caucuses next tuesday night? is it issues? is it the canned days themselves? what is it? >> i think when folks go into those precinct meeting rooms,
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i think the key question in their mind is, which candidate is best suited to go against barack obama in the general election. i think a sub plot to this is republicans want someone to carry their anger about what is happening in the economy, what's happening with the country and their anger at the obama presidency. i think those two things are uppermost in the minds of republicans. that's why i think you haven't seen some of the social issues be as hotly debated on the campaign trail as they may have been in the past. because those economic issues, anger issues, if you will, and the idea that republicans want to be positioned to win back the white house are the pre-dominant factors weighing on the minds of iowa republicans. >> woodruff: matt strawn, i want to ask you about that as well because what we see when we look at the economy in iowa, the reports are that your unemployment rate, one of the best in the country. the "new york times" said last week you've got a robust agricultural sector, low
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foreclosure rate. is the economy the cutting-edge issue in iowa that it is in the rest of the country for republicans? >> well, farm boy from eastern iowa, i can absolutely tell you that the egg economy has kept iowa booming for the most part. the time when the rest of the nation's relatively hurting we have an unemployment rate that is just below 6%. but what you see not just in polls but in talking to iowans we share the same concerns with what we see happening in washington. we see a $15 trillion debt that has to be repaid. we see a president that's punting on addressing long-term looming financial obligations like social security and medicare. we actually are looking for leadership on those economic/financial issues. let me give you one example. going into the straw poll this august both ron paul and michele bachmann who finished in the top two spots their introductory ads to iowa republicans were their opposition to the debt ceiling. i think you've seen issues related to the economy and to
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controlling spending and really getting washington to shrink in size driving the debate in a way that you haven't seen in perhaps past iowa caucuses. >> woodruff: anything quickly you would add to that, kay henderson, about iowa's sitting healthier anyway than the rest of the country when it comes to the economy? >> it is indeed because of the agricultural sector i think that iowa is seeing a good economic outlook. and farmers are a pessimistic lot. so having farmers be a little bit more optimistic about things does affect the way that the culture reacts to news and events here in iowa. >> woodruff: we are going to leave it there. we thank you both. we look forward to seeing you in person in just a couple of days. kay henderson, matt strawn, thank you both. >> thanks, judy. >> thank you.
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our report is part of a collaboration with the pulitzer center on crisis reporting. it comes from special correspondent steve sapienza in peru. >> these miners are part of the biggest gold rush. recent spikes in gold prices have lured 15 million people worldwide into the business of small scale gold mining but rising demand for gold has fueled command for mercury. the toxic metal is used by millions of miners everyday to separate and collect gold from rocks and soil. miners say mercury is easy to use, readily available, and cheap. the united nations environment program estimates that small scale miners use up to 1,350 tons of mercury each year making it the single largest use of mercury worldwide. in south eastern peru, the gold rush has attracted some 20,000 small scale miners to
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the pristine rain forest and river of the region. the devastation caused by widespread mining is easy to spot. with huge swaths of the forest turned to barrenn desert but the damage caused by the heavy use of mercury is harder to detect. mercury from small scale mines travels settling in sediments and moving up the food chain into fish, fish-eating wildlife humans. scientists and medical researchers only recently started to measure the impact of america mercury here. this is a very popular fish around the region. you'll find it on a lot of dinner tables, a lot of the restaurant menus. this fish is at the top of its food chain. what that means is it consumes a lot of smaller fish. a lot of these small fish have mercury in them and through process known as biomagnification, this fish accumulates a lot of mercury. if a person consumes two servings of this fish per week they're getting 7.5 times the safe limit of mercury according to the world health organization.
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it takes two ounces of mercury to produce a single ounce of gold. tt means 50 tons of mercury are used to extract the 25 metric tons of gold mined here each year. miners mix the soil with mercury often using their hands and feet, creating a clump of amalgam that contains gold. most miners are unaware of the dangers posed by mercury to the environment and their health. >> there are very few studies about the contamination of people due to mercury. >> reporter: biologists has closely monitored the dramatic increase of mercury use in this region. >> we recently finished one study made on a sample of 30 people in one mining area, and they were contaminated with mercury above allowable levels. the people that had the worst levels of contamination are those who are not miners, those not linked to the activity itself. they are the merchants, family members, the people who live near the shops where the gold and the mercury are sold. >> reporter: gold shops use stoves to heat the miners'
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clumps of mercury gold amalgam releasing the vapors into the shop and then outside further spreading the toxic threat to towns across the region. epidemiologist has worked in the region for 20 years collecting data on diseases and health risks like mercury poisoning. >> we have been able to find cases of acute intoxication. people arrive with abdominal pain. they arrive with a metallic taste in their mouth or headaches. all of this is related to the handling of mercury. but we have not been able to find patients with chronic intoxication. because we do not have the equipment to make this type of diagnosis. >> reporter: the doctor thinks small scale miners need more education on the dangers of mercury and also alternatives to its use. >> there is good mining carried out in a clean way. finding acceptable methods for obtaining gold without the use of mercury, for example. that would be a good
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alternative to avoid all this contamination. >> reporter: with well over 3,000 mining operations to monitor the unbridled gold rush is overwhelming this man and his tiny staff. >> i currently have over 500 environmental impact studies to evaluate. but i only have two professionals, two people who do evaluations. >> reporter: in peru small scale mining is often the only means of survival for people in poor rural communities. past government efforts to rein in illegal and destructive gold mining have often resulted in civil unrest and deadly clashes with miners. the government must do more to stem the flow of mercury and enforce environmental laws, and he thinks that consumers can help change the way gold is mined. >> all the countries that are consumers of gold, recipients of gold, what they have to demand is to buy green gold, eco-logic gold, gold that
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adheres to all quality standards, to the point where there is no excuse to buy illegal minerals. >> reporter: last year when the government imposed tough new environmental laws on small-scale miners, tens of thousands of miners across peru launched protests. i'm in the small fishing and mining town on peru's southern coast. last year six people died on this highway when police tried to remove a roadblock set by small-scale miners who were protesting government plans to impose stricter environmental controls on them. but in a nearby mining area known as relave, a small scale mining company is changing its practices and going green. the cooperative is a two-hour drive up desolate canyons from the coast. in the wake of the protest violence, the government singled out it as an example of best practices in small-scale mining. founded by mine workers in 1997, it is part of growing trend of south amecan small scale mines seeking to produce
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gold with less impact on the environment and more benefit to the miners. >> with informal mining the difference is that more is sacrificed, more is risked. there are days when you get money. there are days when you do not get paid. but here, it is a business with a secure paycheck. >> reporter: while area miners still rely heavily on crude tools and mercury to extract gold, these miners have moved to a safer option. using a method recently approved by peru's environmental health board, these miners use cyanide leaching as an alternative to mercury processing. >> cyanide can contaminate, if it is dumped to a water source. if there was a river nearby, then it is completely poisonous. but if we see the cyanide is recycled back into the process, then there is no contamination. >> reporter: the general
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manager hopes it will soon become fair trade and fair mine certified. for consumers this means gold is extracted in a way that limits pollution of harmful chemicals like mercury and cyanide. for miners, it means better income, job security, and 10% of profits set aside for the community. >> there is a percentage of that which goes directly for projects in the community. the local population. we are already seeing projects such as recycling, forestry, that are not just at our company but projects for the schools and the municipalities. >> reporter: fair trade and fair mine certified gold is already available in europe and shipments are slated for the u.s. market next year. so far only a handful of small mining companies in south america are adopting fair mine practices but mines like these offer a hopeful alternative to the unregulated and destructive mining in places like this. >> ifill: there are more stories about mining in peru's
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rain forest. at the pulitzer center's crisis reporting web site. you can find their link on our site. >> woodruff: next tonight, political turmoil in russia, and more challenges to vladimir putin. margaret warner has the story. >> warner: freezing temperatures did not deter the determined crowds protesting in moscow on saturday. police put the gathering at 30,000. organizers at four times that many. it was the second round of mass rallies across russia this month. fueled by charges that the ruling united russia party cheated to win the december 4 parliamentary elections. >> i'm enraged by the falsifications. they actually stole the votes of people who didn't vote for them. i got angry and that is why i'm here.
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>> warner: this person was detained after the first round of protests but he was back by saturday vowing if these crooks and thieves keep cheating us, we will take what is ours. >> it is an obvious fraud done in such a brazen way that it is impossible to tolerate this any longer. i think at least 150,000 people gathered here despite the cold temperatures. but even if it were minus 20, the number would be the same. >> warner: the target of the crowd's ire? united russia's man vladimir putin who has held power for 12 years, first as president and now as prime minister. former finance minister alexi koudrin who still talks to putin called for the new parliament to be absolved. >> i'm ready to facilitate this dialogue in order to work out the solution. >> warner: but at united russia's headquarters today putin rejected the idea of a
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new vote and sounded dismissive of the protestors. >> the problem is a lack of consolidated programs as well as clear and comprehensive ways of achieving their goals which aren't clear either. they also like people who are capable of doing something concrete. >> warner: he did call for reforms to govern future elections, however. he pledged a clean process in the presidential balloting in march when he hopes to regain his old office. >> as for me, as a candidate i don't need any vote rigging. i want the election to be maximally transparent. i want everybody to understand it. >> warner: current president medvedev also proposed political reforms in his final state of the union speech last thursday. he and putin catalized russian discontent by announcing in september that they planned to switch jobs again. then came the allegations of election fraud and days of angry protests.
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saturday's demonstrations were the largest yet since those that brought down the soviet union which was dissolved 20 years ago this week. former soviet leader mikhail gorbachev, who resigned on christmas day 1991 called for putin to do the same during an interview on saturday. >> i would advise putin to step down now. it has been enough. three terms. two terms as president and another term as prime minister. three terms. that's enough. >> warner: for now though putin shows no sign of taking that advice. he's pointing toward the march 4 presidential election day when he'll need at least 50% of the russian vote to avoid a run-off. where are putin and russia headed amid this turbulence? for that, we turn to stephen sestanovich, who's worked on russia in the state department and national security council staffs over the past three decades. he's now a senior fellow at the council on foreign relations and professor at columbia university.
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and leon aron, resident scholar and director of russian studies at the american enterprise institute. he writes widely about developments in russia. welcome back to the program to you both. steve sestanovich, first parse what happened in moscow today, putin's appearance. what do you make of what he said and did or announced in terms of what it says about how he's decided to handle these protests? >> well, putin was a lot less nasty about the protestors than he was last time. there weren't a lot of really crude jokes about them. but he plainly has tryed to treat them as though they were occupy wall street. you know, no real leadership, he says. no coherent program. nobody who could get anything done. not a really big crowd. he's hoping that this will subside. that it will go away. and that the fact that he's not really telling the truth
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about this movement will not really come back to bite him because they do have competent leaders. they don't have a unified program but they've got a lot of popular momentum behind them. >> warner: what did you make of him today? >> he was positively tender towards the opposition. >> warner: even though he rejected their call. >> that's right. at least he's not calling them jaeckels scrounging for bread crumb around the embassies or judass or compare their sim symbols to condoms. he's ratcheting down the rhetoric. that's a good thing. i think just to add to what steve said, putin faces two big decisions about how to handle, how to behave from now until the election. he could pretend that nothing happened, that the protests are losing steam. you know, continue as before. or he can loosen the system up
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a little bit just to let still more steam out. it seems to me that this is the latter route that he's signaling with this speech with his comments. yes, the elections are, first of all, he is not giving in to the key demand that there will be additional.... >> warner: for the parliament. >> ...we've seen his own form of... said either we have elections or there will be a revolution. i think that may be the case. putin is not giving in on that. however, he proposes that these elections be fair. well, this is a dangerous thing because fairness to most opposition if not all opposition means the government no longer controls the television. will they settle for anything else? i don't know. but this to me in russian politics today is the key definition of fairness. >> warner: how do you see that pledge of his?
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i don't need any kind of vote rigging. >> he said he doesn't want to have vote rigging but he wants to have the vote. he wants to have the presidential election on schedule. medvedev last week did something a little more far reaching and possibly a little more dangerous. he said, "we're going to have major political reforms that affect the way elections are conducted. there is going to be free registration of parties. there will be elections for governors again, a series of changes. those are going to become the targets for the opposition. they're going to say, "we need to apply those right now." >> warner: because he didn't promise he would apply them before the president election. >> that's right. the opposition now has something to focus on. you say those are good reforms. we want them now. we aren't satisfied with the rigged elections of last month. and the rigged ections to
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come for next year. >> so what about the opposition? i mean, do they have... do they know where they go from here? what choice do they face in the next... they have only ten weeks until this election. >> reporter: putin was right in absolute terms as it were. i mean, yes, they don't have a single leader. but neither did the protestors of the arab spring. i mean, they did not have a leader in tunisia. they did not have a single leader or even a group of accepted leaders. that's the thing about popular uprisings of that sort. but they have a number of very talented politicians, very popular. they have the blogger, the defender, the woman who heads the group that defends or tries to protect forest. >> warner: an environmental trying to save the forest that is slated for.... >> right. they suspect it's all done because of corruption and so on. there is the second... this is
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the younger generation, a new generation. and then there is, of course, people who were in power before. a former prime minister, former first deputy prime minister. sitting next to gorbachev in that video. that person is a very, very talented politician. it's simply not true that they don't have leaders. now other leaders may come up and we never know but i don't think putin should, you know, shed crocodilian tears about that. >> warner: is it fair to say for the march 4 election, can you conceive of any one opposition figure getting enough support to beat putin or is the aim just to keep him under 50%? >> well, keeping him under 50% would be tremendous achievement. it seems remote right now but if you start to do the math, it's not inconceiveable. >> warner: keeping him below
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50. >> yeah. a number of other candidates who get 20, 15, 10, denying putin a first-round victory would be an earthquake in russian politics. but the calculations that the protestors are making and their leaders may not be based simply on that scenario. they may figure that they can get an opportunity to introduce new candidates. for example, one of them has said he wants to run, he's going to form a new political party. it's obvious that one of the questions that will arise is why not in this round? once you start to have new figures who command a lot more public enthusiasm than these very impressive but.... >> warner: old faces. >> ...old faces, then the atmosphere could change dramatically. it could be really hard for putin to get anything like 50%. >> warner: we only have a minute left. briefly, do you think that
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russia will move in this next ten weeks by fits and starts but basically peacefully to an election or do you think there's a plausible prospect of some kind of really eruption coming from the protestors or from a crackdown or a provocation generated by the government as a pretext for a crackdown? >> this is an opposition movement that knows that they can not afford to give the government any pretext for a crackdown, but the government is not looking for blood and repression because they're worried that they can't get the police to enforce it, that they won't have the military on their side. we saw these pictures of the soviet flag being lowered 20 years ago. why did that happen? because the police and the military weren't willing to shoot protestors. there is not any confidence in leadership that they could get them to shoot this time. >> we ought to expect some
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very major crises coming in to presidential elections either before or after march 4. >> warner: a bold prediction. thank you both. >> ifill: finally tonight, an acclaimed coming-of-age novel, based in part on the writer's own past. jeffrey brown has our book conversation. >> brown: in the early 1950s, a young boy sets out on a ship from his home in what was then sauled kay loan now sri lanka bound for england. on board he has many adventures. it's just a three-week trip but one that will change his life forever. that's the fictional voyage of a new novel, the cat's table. its author take a trip like that long ago before becoming the much loved writer.
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he joins us now. welcome to you. >> thank you. >> brown: an 11-year-old boy named michael makes this trip as did.... >> i had no idea the boy would be called michael until page 40. suddenly that name appeared. i thought should i go for that or not. >> brown: it didn't start out that which. >> i never know how the book will evolve before i write it. i just began with a boy coming on the ship one night. then he gets off the ship 21 days later on. and the actual journey i took in fact was... i don't remember it at all. i played a lot of ping-pong and used the swimming pool a low. that was about it. >> brown: something compelled you to look back at that, whether it's auto biographical. i don't want to make it that way but something, the material made you want to look back. >> well, what happened was a few years ago i talked to my children who are now grown up. i said i was put on this ship and there were no parental guidance or nothing. they were appalled.
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i said it is appalling. >> brown: that's a different time. a young boy put on a boat by himself. >> right. i thought my god that's a wonderful story here. i'll just invent this adventure that takes place on this ship during that time. even though i'm using a kind of an element of memoir or a biography all the characters in the story and all the adventures are fictional. >> brown: the catch table refers to the table in the dining room that's the furthest from the captain's table, right? >> right. >> brown: one of the characters said this is the least privileged place and these are the least important people on board. >> if you have a big bang ket you're sitting at the cat's table. it's very significant. i think there's a lot of freedom in being unofficial. a lot of freedom in being not on stage all the time. you can be a heckler. for a boy of 11 years old at this table he's almost completely invisible. he can go to places that others can't go to. these three boys that get together are kind of having
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great adventures and slipping into the butcher's room and into the jail and all kinds of strange places. >> brown: as there something freeing for you about having the character be a boy? >> to write from the point of view from an 11-year-old was fantastic for me. it was... that was an adventure as well. you weren't judging people. you weren't trying to work out what one really felt. you just received information and you were led into kind of badness and goodness right away. >> brown: you're working here in one of the great realms of literature, the trip, right? and the characters along the way from the canterbury tale onward, right? >> that's right. i guess that's why it's very important to populate the adventure with many many people from different classes of society. >> brown: how did that happen? did you have this fully formed when you sat down or did you... did you literally make it up as you went along? >> i made it up. all i had was the boy at the beginning. he had three friends. the fact that they were at the
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cat's table allowed me to think of a larger cast of characters so i have a jazz musician from the skids and you have a strange woman with pigeons who might be from white hall and a millionaire whoa who is dying of rabies. all kinds of strange things are happening. it allowed me to invent these people. when someone says to the b keep your ears and eyes open because this will be a great education. when someone said that, then it became in a way a book about how especially 11 year olds are easily educated in a bad way or a good way. there's a thief who uses the boy to break into cabins, for instance. he's happy to do this. it's an adventure for him. >> brown: the boy as well as some of these characters that he meets are... they are traveling from east to west. that's another part of the great literature i think that you're working in here. >> i'm someone who, as i said, born in sri lanka and moved to
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england and then to canada. i've been pretty nomadic in my life. this book gets these boys from asia who really don't even know what england is who are about to arrive and their lives are going to change completely. i just love that kind of transferring of people from one location to another one. >> brown: when you finished, i guess, and i going back to where we started, you're looking back at a life that is sort of yours but not yours. were you surprised by what you had written? >> you know it's very odd because i think when you write fiction, you are obviously kind of discovering elements of yourself even if you're writing fiction because the kind of characters you invent are aspects of yourself or glimmers of aspects of yourself. you have to paint them in great detail. so the boy michael who i see as a fictional character i'm sure contains elements of my fears and wishes.
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i think all those things. is th. nice to talk to you. thank you. >> good to talk to you. >> woodruff: again, the major developments of the day. thousands of syrians rallied as arab league peace monitors arrived in the embattled city of homs. republican presidential hopefuls spread far and wide across iowa with one week to go until the first-in-the-nation caucuses there. and americans' consumer confidence rebounded in december, to the highest levels since april. and to hari sreenivasan, for what's on the newshour online. hari? >> sreenivasan: patchwork nation
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breaks down president obama's approval and disapproval ratings in different types of communities, and what that could mean for his chances of reelection. on our making sense page, you can use an interactive graphic to explore the latest housing prices in 20 major u.s. cities. also, an army official and a psychotherapist answered your questions about a new program to build the mental resilience of troops. that's on our health page. on art beat, we highlight some of the best musical performances at public media stations this year. all that and more is on our web site, judy? >> woodruff: and that's the newshour for tonight. on wednesday, we'll look at the causes behind last year's run of extreme weather. i'm judy woodruff. >> ifill: and i'm gwen ifill. we'll see you online, and again here tomorrowveni. thank you, and good night. major funding for the pbs newshour has been provided by: >> computing surrounds us. sometimes it's obvious and sometimes it's very surprising where you find it. soon, computing intelligence in unexpected places will change
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